Everyone in just about every industry has their own measure for when they know they’ve made it. For a young designer, there isn’t one much better than coming across a photo of Malia Obama in one of your dresses, as Ellen Van Dusen did this past April.
But really, it’s part of a wave of good news for Dusen Dusen, the line she launched out of her apartment in the spring of 2010. Her imminently wearable and immediately recognizable pieces—almost all of which are adorned with lighthearted, minimal prints she designs herself—are cropping up in stores across the country, and the dress Obama wore to a televised White House Concert was part of a larger, ongoing collaboration Van Dusen has had with Anthropologie, taking her line from local favorite to household name—at least for a limited subset of households.
“It’s a total learning experience, working with a bigger retailer as opposed to producing my own line,” says Van Dusen, who recently moved her operation to a Williamsburg studio that’s already been painted with a few of her bright blue and yellow prints. But having never formally studied design, learning as she goes is a natural part of the process for Van Dusen.
“My parents are crafty people. When I was young, we always had projects going. I went to thrift stores and cut stuff up,” she says. “When I was in college, I knew that I wanted to go into fashion, but I wanted to take a different approach to the field, so I did a design-your-own-major program, and it was called the Psychology of Design. It was sort of trying to understand the visual system of clothes, and understanding why some things become successful and why some don’t.” Meaning, then, that if you find that you can’t get her signature jigsaw or fruity prints out of your head, it’s probably intentional.